Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The annual "Victory Day" holiday to mark the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany took on opposite meanings in Russia and Ukraine.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the occasion to rally Russians to his Orwellian-named "special military operation" (it's illegal to call it a war) in Ukraine, which has disturbing parallels to the one Germany triggered. In fact, echoes of the same methods are being deployed on the killing fields of Ukraine. That includes brutality, which has led many global leaders and anyone observing in an environment of media freedom to accuse Putin's troops of war crimes and even genocide.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy can see it, too. "Darkness has returned to Ukraine," he said Sunday, "and it has become black and white again. Evil has returned, in a different uniform, under different slogans, but for the same purpose."
The accurate allusion to Russians reprising Nazism in a land that lost about 8 million people fighting it during World War II also wasn't lost on leaders of the G-7, which held an online meeting with Zelenskyy as the guest of honor. The cohort, which beyond the U.S. includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, said that it would not only continue its military aid to Ukraine but also announced a ban or phaseout of Russian oil, reducing the revenue for Putin's war machine. Independently the U.S. sanctioned three Russian state TV entities.
Beyond the virtual meeting, there's been on-the-ground diplomatic support, including a trip to Kyiv by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and even First Lady Jill Biden crossing the border to meet with her counterpart, Olena Zelenska.
In a statement, the group of industrialized democracies said that "President Putin must not win this war in Ukraine," explaining that they owed it to "the memory of all those who fought for freedom in the second world war." Putin's actions, it said, "bring shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people."
Putin embodied that shame by equating Ukrainians with Nazis. As notable, however, was what Putin didn't do. He didn't declare the conflict a war. He didn't call for a mass mobilization of Russian society. And he didn't declare a military "victory" even as Russian forces tried to tighten their grip on significant swaths of eastern Ukraine.
Putin did declare the conflict as "necessary, timely and the only right solution" and a "pre-emptive pushback" to what he said were Western intentions to attack eastern Ukraine. All are obscene, lethal lies in a war of choice by Russia's ruler.
Victory Day brought mixed feelings, Ivan Kurilla, a professor of history and international relations at the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia, said during a Wilson Center virtual event on Monday. The "catastrophe" of the war in Ukraine "has already started to influence or to destroy the whole building, the entire set of references we had acquired about [World War II] and the meaning of the war for Russians."
The meaning in Ukraine, however, is quite clear, Zelenskyy said. Ukrainians "fought for freedom for us and won. We are fighting for freedom for our children, and therefore we will win."
If that indeed happens, it would re-establish the authentic value of "Victory Day," if not create a reason for an additional one.